Adding to Lent…

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten Season, the 40 days that lead up to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It’s a common custom to “give up” something for Lent.  Christians have historically fasted and prayed as they prepare their hearts for the celebration of that which defines their faith–a God who has conquered death.

Ironically, I started my 40 days of fasting by preparing a month’s worth of food…literally.  I’ve recently been on a freezer crockpot meal kick.  Last month, I thought I was easing into the idea with meals that would last approximately 2 weeks.  However, the meals were so large that they provided a month’s worth of food for our family of 6.  The simplicity of tossing pre-packaged ingredients into the crockpot was so freeing.  So yesterday, when the ziplock bags in the freezer drawer started to dwindle, without much thought I started packaging more meals.

Only today did the irony dawn on me.  It’s been awhile since I have given up something I love as an act of fasting for Lent.  I started to wonder this morning if I should pick up the practice again.  Then I opened the freezer…

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I am sure that being really hungry or intensely craving a Lindor Dark Chocolate Truffle could draw one closer to Jesus. It would exhibit great sacrifice for me to give up my morning cups of coffee.  I just don’t think I am strong enough.  And I really love my family.  I’d hate for them to have to live with the decaffeinated, chocolate deprived version of me for 40 days.  I don’t think that’s what Jesus wants for them.  So here is my alternative plan:

This year, during Lent, I will add something to life, rather than take away.  Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross, and nothing I can “give up” for 40 days will ever come close in comparison.  It is due to His great outpouring on the cross, that I have been covered in so much.  I am really excited about the possibilities of acknowledging over the next 39 days all that I have received because Jesus gave up everything.  I find myself focusing on “beautiful exchange” language: through His loss of everything, I have gained all.

Therefore, I will “add on” for Lent and truly be thankful for all that He gave me in His giving up.


 

Day 1:  Crockpot Freezer Meals.

Since I missed Ash Wednesday…and happened to make a month’s worth of food, I will cheat and say it was purposeful.  (Shhh…Don’t tell.)  I added nourishment for my family, which only points me to His amazing provision.  He meets and satisfies all of my daily needs.  How paradoxical, that as I start the season of fasting my freezer is supplied on day one with enough provision for the entirety of Lent!?

“He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”

2 Corinthians 9:10-11

He not only supplies food for my physical needs, but He supplies the nourishment I need in my soul.  He enriches all of life which causes me to be able to enrich the lives of others.  He draws me close…even through bags of frozen beef stroganoff and mongolian beef.


Day 2:  Volume.

I might as well play a little catch up.  Today, I added volume…well, to be specific, loud obnoxious singing.

This morning, as with most of our mornings, our children were having a very difficult time waking up and getting ready for school.  It’s quite frustrating, especially when we discuss the importance of getting up on time each and every evening before.  It is precisely for this morning battle, that coffee is a daily neccesity.

Today, however, I greeted each of my children with a loud operatic wake-up call.  It was fun.  After covering their heads with their sheets and muffling their ears with stuffed animals, they eventually laughed.  Helen even warbled back with her own aria: “Where– is my schoo—ooool SHIRT?”

As the day has gone on, Judah and I have performed our own recitatives for each other.  His screaming (which has recently been driving me mad) has never been so adorably charming.  It’s amazing how my heart has already softened to gratitude, even though the volume hasn’t lessened at all.

All of this singing reminds me of Zephaniah 3:17:

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

And so I add volume–loud rejoicing!  I am thankful that God is in my midst, rejoicing over me.  I am thankful that He taught me through silly overwhelming vibrato to embrace life (even toddler-screaming) in the moment and to be thankful.  I am beyond grateful that He has the ability to almost instantly shift my heart and my mind from overwhelming frustration to overwhelming joy.

I am excited to see what He gives tomorrow.  I’d love for you to join me in “adding on” this Lent.  We truly have been given a great abundance.

Life After Rehab…Step 2

So Family Rehab has concluded and summer reflection time begins.  Earlier this week, I posted about Step 1 of Life After Rehab, drawing from seven steps I found on a drug rehab site.  The steps are written to help addicts as they transition from a time of intentional learning back to real life.  If you didn’t happen to read about Step 1, please take the time to check it out, as the thoughts after each of the seven steps support all of them.

Before diving into Step 2, I have to take a moment to mention how thankful I am for this thinking and processing time.  God has been overwhelming me this summer with His provision of time and space to think and write.  I feel like I would be “hiding it under a bushel-oh, no!” not to mention the way God has been caring for my heart in a very personal way during this time.  From anonymous donors who have made babysitting possible, to my mom who has given up her week to come and help me while I work from bed with a thrown out back, I have been inundated with blessing.  I hesitate to even write publicly about His provision, because I don’t want others to compare and feel bad about their current situation.  (I say this, because that’s exactly what I have done and would do…)  But the amazing thing is that the same God who has been so generous with me is the same God of everyone who is reading this.  His love for everyone else is just as deep as it is for me.  His generosity and provision no less for anyone else.  I know that at another time, in another season, I will read someone else’s blog and feel jealousy well up within me because their life seems so blessed.  I can hear my own, “Well aren’t you lucky…” sassiness in my head.  I’ve been there before and done that.  Maybe the next time I will remember writing this and will eat my own words.  Hopefully, I will just thank their God for being my God and for taking care of all of His children.

Okay…on with Life After Rehab…


Step 2:  Evaluate the Neighborhood, and Move if Needed.

“For some people, the old neighborhood contains a plethora of reminders about substance use and abuse. They may be walking by their drug dealers on a daily basis, and the street corners, local bar fronts, and green parks might remind them of the times they spent getting drunk or getting high. These memories can be powerful triggers for addiction cravings, and they could be too much for people to resist. Other people may find that their homes are, similarly, unsafe. For example, a study in the journal Substance Use and Misuse found that female heroin users often lived with a current user or a former user. When rehab is over, these people might return to homes filled with drugs, and a relapse might quickly follow. Moving to a new neighborhood can push the reset button on cravings, providing the person with new vistas and new opportunities to explore. The neighborhood might be safer, with fewer available drugs, or it might just be different enough to push the old memories away. If the old neighborhood is unsafe or it’s too hard to live under the burden of memory, moving might be an apt choice” (http://www.michaelshouse.com).


HA! I laughed out loud when I read this step. This is NOT why we moved away from Buda! Nevertheless, I get the point and see how our move to Katy is further evidence that God was at work in our Family Rehab year.  While we weren’t fleeing from unsafe people or places, we did find ourselves in “new vistas” and with “new opportunities to explore.”  Honestly, we haven’t really done a lot of this work, so this step is still very applicable for our family.  We don’t want to get swept up in the chaos of American dream setting and fast-paced living that we neglect the hearts of our children yet again.  And the struggle to end up there again is even greater in a new place with the pressure to fit in to our surroundings.  Before Family Rehab, the majority of our time was committed to people and places outside of our home (for us, as adults, as well as for the children). These commitments were all with good people and were for healthy reasons.  But with every “yes” to other people we were saying “no” to focused time with our children.  Having them home for school has dramatically changed the amount of hours we have alone with them.  For this I am grateful and see the benefits of spending my days with them.  Our conversations are not limited to the dinner table or at bedtime.  This is one area where we dramatically changed our surroundings during Family Rehab.  For life after Rehab, this might be a change in lifestyle that we choose again next year.

The fact that I don’t really know anyone yet here in Katy has helped me in not spreading my schedule too thin. But, I know the time will come when the temptation to over-commit will call.  More concerning than over-committing time away from home, is the temptation to misuse the time I do have with the kids.  Am I looking past them to the calendar for my next mommy-break?  Am I easily frustrated that they just won’t go to bed because I am more concerned about sitting down and doing nothing than I am about discovering the state of their little hearts?  Once our new house becomes our home, I am certain that these temptations will become a part of our new norm…honestly, they already have.  But, it’s because of my weakness in giving in to these areas that we started our year of rehab in the first place.  Moving to another house or city will not be an option when these selfish cravings pursue.  I’m not sure what the right step will be, but I do know that likely God will ask me to do something that causes change and shakes things up a bit.  I need to be open to that.  I need to prepare myself now because that time will likely come and sacrifice will likely be asked of me.  A life of faith-risks and ultimate trust is what is asked of me.

Perhaps what is worth noting from this step is exactly that–being willing to do the “crazy” thing for the purpose of sobriety—sober-mindedness (see previous post).  Think for a minute how huge of a deal it would be to just pack up and pick up and move to another part of town, all for the purpose of getting away from temptation.  That’s a pretty extreme step for the sake of healthy living.  Especially if what you are tempted to do is widely accepted, joked about, and encouraged in our culture.  But, if you consider doing it for your kids, that might become a different story.

Consider this:  If your child was being bullied by a young neighbor down the street, or a predator was stalking your teenage daughter, relocating for the sake of their safety wouldn’t be that much of a stretch.  So if the culture I am living in and submitting myself to encourages me to neglect and be disappointed in my children because they are “in the way”, then are my kids really safe with me—in my home?  So what dramatic changes will I need to take if we find ourselves living in the neighborhood of busyness, impatience, fear, and neglect?  I have to at least be willing to consider that changing something might be the right thing to do, not just for the children, but for all of us.  If it upsets my comfort, is an inconvenience, or requires sacrifice, than I’ve got to remember that I am the only one who can be asked to take such drastic measures for my children.  God has entrusted me and my spouse with them, called me to care for them and teach them, to facilitate their growth into little men and women of God.  (Deuteronomy 6:7)  I can’t get out of this one… (sigh).  I can’t look to the Sunday School teacher or the swim coach to take over this responsibility.  Am I willing?  Will I be willing when even more is asked of me than just “Family Rehab?”

This is a really hard question to honestly consider.

[silence]

Yep…that’s about as far as I let it sink in for me, too.  It’s a hard question to consider until we are at the crossroads of the sacrifice and the decision to follow-through.  My prayer is that for all of us, when we are asked to deny ourselves and pick up our crosses and follow Him, that we will find the courage to do so.  I pray that God will give us all a clear enough picture of the destructive drugs we are being asked to run from that when sacrifice is required in the fleeing, there is no doubt that giving them up will be worth it.

We can incorrectly assume that life after rehab means all the hard work and incredible sacrifice is over.  But it’s not.  There will always be more opportunities to refine who we are and adjust our thinking and priorities.  There will be new drugs, new temptations, and new addictions.  The humbling thing is that God in His mercy provides joy in the midst of sacrifice.  That joy is the overflow of a thankful heart that sees and recognizes the mercy and grace of the Father.  The temptation to “just get through” the day instead of invest in those with whom you share the day, the drug-like highs of productivity, busyness, and stress that cause a back-lash of hurtful behavior towards the ones we love, the culture that lures us into lazy and slothful parenting—God lifts our heads above these things.  He gives us hope to overcome these things, because He already has and He simply just cares that much.  He rescues us from the entrapment and slavery of these things.  For that, we have reason to be joyful, to give Him praise, and to worship Him.  Even if we are asked to sacrifice time or comfort, or even neighborhoods, knowing that we have been freed up to be freed from our addictions gives us thankful hearts and joy in the midst of sacrifice.

“And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord” (Psalm 27:5-7).

A Hand To The Face

I thought I would share our bible verse from last week and how we have started to practically apply it to real life situations.  I just walked up the stairs from trying our practicum on the children, and it actually had a positive impact for the first time. So, I thought I’d better share while it’s fresh and still true that it’s working.  (I better type fast!)

Last week our verse was, “We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19.  I had the girls draw a heart in their prayer journals.  In the middle of their heart they wrote their name.  Around the edge of the heart, they wrote the verse.  Then we talked about what it means.

Q: “Who loved us first?”

A: “God”

Q: “How did God love us?”

A: “He sent Jesus to die on the cross for us.”

So we drew a cross to the left of the heart with an arrow pointing to the heart.  Because God loved us, the arrow points from the cross to our hearts.  The love of God enters our hearts by way of the cross.

Q: “Because God loved us, what can we do?”

A: “Love others”

Then we drew some stick people to the right of the heart.  Again, we put an arrow in between the two to show that love flows from our heart to others.  When you trace back the path of the arrows, it all starts with Jesus and the cross.

Q: “So what is unique about the way that God loved us?”

A: “He gave up his Son”

Q: “What is unique about how Jesus loved us?”

A: “He gave up his life.  He died for us.”

So there was a “giving up” of something.  That’s called sacrifice.  God loved us with a “sacrificial love.”

Q: “So if the same love that starts with Jesus on the cross flows out of us onto others, how can we love others?”

A: “We can sacrifice for them.”Image

“Great discussion”, you say, “but how do you put that into practice…with children especially?”  Below is what we have been trying, and as of 10 minutes ago (and counting) it is working (well, once so far…)

Here is our plan:  When someone is yelling (usually in our house it’s “STOP!”), whether it be to stop kicking, singing, smacking, or generally stop being frustrating, the new rule is to hold up a hand to the face to accompany the “STOP!”  In our family, the “STOP” seems to be second nature and takes no training, so I decided to use that to my advantage.  Usually our yelling is self-seeking and is accompanied by name-calling.  Having the hand up reminds us all that we need to stop.  It doesn’t matter if we are the one doing the yelling or the name-calling, or the annoying, we all need to stop.  We need to think about our heart drawings in the prayer journals.  When a hand goes up, everyone should stop and say the verse together.  “We love because He first loved us.”  Then we have to pause and ask the questions: “How did Jesus love me?” ( He sacrificed for me.) “And how can I sacrifice for the other person right now?”  Our frustration and yelling and difficulty in loving each other usually arises when we are thinking more about what we want to get out of the relationship or situation than what we can give up for the other.  So, in an effort to retrain our first response in those situations, let’s ask ourselves not what I can get, but what can I give, remembering all the while that it is only because of Jesus that we have the capacity to love sacrificially.

Earlier I ran into the kitchen because I heard a cacophony of screaming and yelling and name-calling.  The kids were playing their own version of “town” or “life” where playing cards are used as currency and someone is manning the bank, the store, and the cafe.  Instead of joining in with my own self-righteous yelling and name-calling, I just held up the palm of my hand.  All three little hands went up and the room was silent.  I almost didn’t know what to do next, I was so shocked.  I started, “We love because…”  and they joined in.  (Oh, don’t screw this up, Angie!) I lead them through the simple explanation of how Jesus taught us sacrificial love and how that same love lives in us.  I asked, “how can we give up something right now in order to love one another?”  Helen, without hesitation said, “Here, Gideon, I will give you some of my money.”

GULP…it worked.  Without further thought, I ran upstairs and started typing.  I probably should have followed up with them more, but I was so encouraged and shocked that I didn’t think about that until now.  Honestly, in retrospect, I don’t even know if the money was the issue at the center of all the yelling.  I probably should have at least checked that much, but needless to say, as of yet, there still has been only happy play noises down there, so I don’t dare dig up old bones.  This moment is going on the “Count Your Blessings” board.  Hopefully, having a practical way to apply the gospel to those intense situations will stick.  My hope is that they will eventually start leading the way themselves by putting up a hand without me even being there.  Who knew a “hand to the face” could be such a gesture of sacrificial love?